When you haven’t written anything longer than a blog post in months, you get into panic situations where you feel you may have burnt through the capability of sitting still for a length of time to write a full fledged novel.
This happened with me recently – the panic, obviously – so I decided that the best way to handle it was to put myself in a pressure cooker by trying my hand at NaNoWriMo. Spoiler alert, I don’t like to abide by rules so I failed this second attempt as well.
But, surprise surprise, I did finish my first draft – a glorious 50,000 words that not only let me revisit a favourite character, but also was something longer than 500 words.
How did I manage it?
I. Just do it
Not to borrow Nike’s iconic tagline but that’s what got me through. Any time I would stop, or whine, or cry that I cannot sit on my butt any longer, I told myself to just do it. Please just put one word next to the other and finish it.
II. Have a plot
This may seem very basic but having a plot will solve a lot of problems. Even if your characters aren’t defined, it’s okay. Sometimes you discover them as you write. But you won’t get far without a basic plot of this happens, then this, and then this. The end.
III. Change font styles
One thing I tried doing differently this time was changing my font style every time I opened the draft. I’m obsessed with having at least 5 pages (2300 words) per chapter and when I am unable to reach it, I panic and write gibberish to fulfill that target. Changing font styles allowed me to not obsess over pages or words. Also, it was fun. And starting a writing session on something silly helped.
IV. Finish the thought
I always try to stop only once I have either finished a chain of thought or a chapter. That way when I come back to the manuscript, I’m not tempted to read everything I wrote before and waste time editing or sulking. I can just read the last paragraph written to pick up the train of thought, if needed.
V. Plan before you sit down
Plan what you want to write before you sit down to write. So if my writing session has to begin at 10 pm, I have spent the entire day thinking about what I want to write next. This way, the bad ideas will be weaned out and the good ideas will stick. So when you sit down to write, you’re not staring at a blank screen – an eventuality we all want to avoid.
VI. Give yourself a deadline
Since I do not have a publisher or agent or editor waiting with bated breath for my next draft to finish, I have to self discipline. So I give myself a deadline to spur me into action when I find myself making excuses.
VII. Self discipline
None of the above will work if you don’t sit and write every day. Motivation is a myth and lies in the sea of procrastination and the only way to get to it is by using the wasting time bridge. It is only self discipline that can take you to the promised lands and salvation.
First drafts, I have found, are the easiest and consequently the most difficult to get through. What comes after is far more challenging, no doubt, but it only comes after and that won’t happen unless you begin.
So begin. It’s hard, yes, but it also your only choice.